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A sick and pathetic pensioner

One would almost feel sorry for him, when one saw how slowly he entered the courtroom, how bewildered he looked, his white and strained face showing suffering and anxiety. In a broken voice he asked the court and the entire nation for clemency: "I hope you won't convict a poor pensioner in bad health."

One would almost feel sorry for him, when one saw how slowly he entered the courtroom, how bewildered he looked, his white and strained face showing suffering and anxiety. In a broken voice he asked the court and the entire nation for clemency: "I hope you won't convict a poor pensioner in bad health."

But it was enough just to remember who was presenting himself as a pitiable pensioner, and all thoughts of clemency vanished. For this was Jozef Majský, the former big businessman, who magically acquired enormous assets at lightning speed during the chaotic transition from socialism to a market economy in Slovakia.

He was not the only one who got rich, but unlike the others he boasted of his wealth and the "unconventional" ways in which he had acquired it, including the shopping bags in which they brought him the millions of crowns from the failed pyramid schemes. He also liked to show off the tasteless and snobbish furnishings of villas and haciendas, decked out according to his taste, resembling Moliere's villager who became a nobleman.

In accordance with this scene, he also secured himself a Lady Diana, who was occasionally willing to pose with him on an African safari, at other times at some ball or fancy reception. They were invited to them all and attended many, always the centre of attention of the politicians and the fawners. Majský never forgot to remind them of the enormity of the pedestal he stood on. He himself was convinced, and always tried to demonstrate, that everything and everyone can be bought - ministers and MPs, and even seats in parliament, when he expressed interest.

What he emitted was not the pride of a self-made man like Baťa, but the arrogance of a wheeler-dealer with no shame, who was capable of cheating any partner, and then delivering the last blow - this is no longer anything to do with you. He had no scruples, either in business or in his relations with other people that he met, to whom he behaved arrogantly, egotistically and crudely.

When the wall came tumbling down, it didn't take everyone who had been feeding off him long to desert him, including politicians and people from his inner circle. All of a sudden, there was no one left to stand up for him or defend him, apart from those who were paid directly and well to do so. He was left alone, and was not accompanied to court by any of the people who had long protected him, and whom he had sponsored in return, in line with the philosophy of one hand washes another.

Until recently, Majský in this country represented those successful Slovak entrepreneurs in the post-socialist wave who in the eyes of the public epitomized dishonourable and suspect business dealings. They were guided not by the principle of fair play, but by sneakiness. For these people, their wealth did not represent an obligation to society, but on the contrary, offered opportunities, special rights and the feeling of being untouchable.

The honourable privatiser, thanks to Majský and those like him, is only a bitter oxymoron in our public vocabulary. Our latest social demagogues are making good use of this with their ancient slogans used by utopian egalitarians: Wealth is theft, let's rather take from the rich and give to the poor.

The Special Court's just verdict last week on Majský and his accomplices should be seen as an important signal for the public, entrepreneurs and politicians. Could the ice be thawing?


Sme, May 2

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